As schools close across the country for a three-month summer break, the question is as perennial as the blooms of summer: Should public schools go to a 12-month calendar and extend school days to increase U.S. students' global competitiveness?
The subject got renewed interest after a brutal winter in which students missed several consecutive days of school due to heavy snowfall, extreme cold from back-to-back polar vortex weather patterns, power outages and other weather-related events. In some school districts in Michigan, students missed as many as a dozen days.
Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, is joined by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in supporting year-round schools, USA Today reported in February. The concept involves adding more days, as well as shorter, more frequent breaks to the calendar.
Duncan thinks more hours in school “better prepares children to be successful in the 21st century.”
In a blog on The Huffington Post, “The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching” author Matthew Lynch argues that though too few schools have adopted year-round calendars to scientifically measure their impact, it’s clear that at-risk students perform better without long summer breaks.
His conclusion is backed up in a 2011 report by The RAND Corp., which said the “summer slide” disproportionately affects low-income students.
But opponents say the research on year-round schools isn’t conclusive enough to justify additional operational costs. Tina Bruno, executive director of The Coalition for a Traditional School Calendar, says more time in school isn’t necessarily better.
“If we are really concerned and feel kids need more academic time, we can better use the time we have," Bruno told USA Today. "What we really need to focus on is providing students with the learning programs they need before we just say 'Give them more, it'll make it better.' “
Robbing children and their families of a long summer break isn’t the only suggestion to stop the learning leakage.
In an editorial for CNN, the chief executive of a national nonprofit says the summer learning loss is real and parents should find real-world activities to help reinforce brainy concepts of physics, for example, and come up with other ways to keep their children involved in learning.
Project Lead The Way CEO Vince Bertram points to research that shows kids lose about two months’ worth of learning in the summer, meaning that when they return to school in the fall, teachers have to spend the first few weeks of school in remedial sessions.
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